Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Keith Anthony, author of “Times and Places”
Hi Keith, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Thanks for your interest in my book. I was born and brought up in South Bucks, on the edge of the Chiltern Hills, though took myself all the way to Aberystwyth to study French, which may not seem logical but was a great place to go to Uni. Since then I have worked in and around London, but also spent 3 years seconded to work in the European Commission in Brussels. I worked briefly in the Balkans too. My loves are nature, wildlife and the countryside, music (I play some classical and finger picking blues guitar), all things spiritually reflective and languages: I speak French, rusty German and Spanish, and a confused smattering of Balkan languages, though my Slovenian friend rolls her eyes whenever I actually try to say anything.
So, what have you written?
I wrote a diary throughout the nineties and I think this was a good discipline, basically “practising my craft” every day for 13 years, and I hope it has paid off. I have written some poems. Some earlier ones were pretty painful, but I have got more into poetry in the last couple of years, through Janet Morley’s books, and some of my more recent poems have been better. I write childrens’ stories too, they usually star the child for whom they are destined. The most recent was written for my Slovenian goddaughter and is called “The Juggler of Poisonous Frogs”, which I am confident is not a title that has been used before! “Times and Places” is however my first novel, and my first published work, so I am in very exciting new territory.
Where can we buy or see them?
Times and Places is out there now, it was released on 28th February as book and e-book, published by the Book Guild. You can look inside it on Amazon to see how the first chapters grab you.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
Fergus lost his 24 year old daughter and only child a decade ago and has been struggling ever since, growing ever more anxious. He tries practising mindfulness and even takes himself off on a retreat in an attempt to find greater peace, but, although, he does receive insights, there are no magic cures. He goes on a long cruise with his wife, hoping to relax, but strange events on board only cause his imagination to run wild and his anxieties come to a head. Despite his troubles, Fergus is a deeply compassionate man, observant of others and their own difficulties and sensitive to the world about him, both its natural beauty and its irritations. Even in his early sixties, he is still looking for answers to the big questions. Through it all, he keeps good senses of wonder and humour, as well as a deep love for his wife, aware that she has “a natural calmness to which he sometimes clung as if it were indeed a lifebelt and he lost at sea”.
What are you working on at the minute and what’s it about?
Well I’m really enjoying the moment of having a published book, and seeking to market it as best I can, but without becoming too intense. Of course, I want to help it do as well as it can, but I’m proud of it whatever happens. I do have ideas for another book, not a “follow-on” but something different, though probably also using humour and pathos to observe the world around me, and maybe to point to questions as to what might lie beyond.
What genre are your books and what draws you to this genre?
I think my natural style is in a similar vein to Jonathan Coe, though the underlying background to his books is political, whereas mine is quietly spiritual. I think, like him, I have sought to use that mix of humour and pathos to get bigger messages across within poignant, accessible literary fiction.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I don’t think you decide to become a writer, you just enjoy writing… I always hoped I’d write a book and for years I wrote more casually. Then, in the autumn of 2015, I decided I really wanted to try to achieve that ambition. I actually began my novel at the very start of 2016 and focussed single mindedly on it for the next 26 months, until publication day on 28th February this year. The guitar playing has paid the price; I need to resurrect that now.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
Part time, I have a full time job, though actually I am just about to start a 7 month career break. I want to get much fitter, get that guitar playing going again and perhaps move that second novel out of the “Hmmm, that’s not a bad basis for a story” stage to something more tangible. I’m going on a “Writing Magazine” one day course in late April aimed at those looking to embark on a second novel… I’m hoping that will give me impetus to start properly. It feels quite daunting to go from a finished product all the way back to a blank page one again, plus second novels are notoriously hard: you are still a novice writer yet you have used up a lifetime of ideas in your first book… Still, I do think there is another book there.
Where do your ideas come from and how much research do you do?
In my case it was a mixture of four things:
I went on a cruise and knew it had the potential to be a fantastic setting: beautiful locations, lots of potential for satire and interesting side characters, with no easy escape from those you find irritating. So while on board I did take little notes, but just enough to set a stage. I wanted my story to be fiction, referencing cruises generally rather than any one real ship.
I’d also been on a silent retreat and it was struck by what 8 days of silence can do to the mind: you become aware of all the junk that resides there, and also much more spiritually sensitive. It is impossible to hold on to these perspectives in full when returning into the real world, but I think you can retain something. Anyway, I wanted to explore this a little too.
I love nature and wildlife, so I wanted to convey that in my story, particularly in my home area of the Chilterns where we are lucky enough to have a lot of it, including plentiful Red Kites circling high above us. But my story also travels to the Isles of Scilly and Slovenia, as well as the sub-tropical islands visited by the ship.
Finally, if we live long enough, it’s a sad certainty that we eventually lose someone we love. It has happened to me in losing my father, and I wanted to explore how unimaginably worse it would be for parents who lost their only child, even as a young adult. I felt a big responsibility doing so, aware that I may have readers for whom my fiction was a reality, I tried hard to be sensitive to that.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
I think the more spiritual aspects… while I tried to give the book an overall mystical feel, through the beauty of the natural world and observing people’s thoughts and feelings, there are two chapters where I focus more directly on Fergus’ spiritual search. I do this in an accessible way, retaining humour and asking questions rather than providing answers. Readers can certainly enjoy the book while reaching very different conclusions from Fergus. Nevertheless, including spiritual musings in a book will turn a proportion of readers off and may result in lower sales and review scores. So, including those two chapters comes with risk, but a book needs to be true to itself and I never really considered taking them out.
What book/s are you reading at present?
I have just finished “The Journal” by R D Stevens published by Matador books. It was exquisitely written, a really poignant, meditative read and a beautifully described journey across South East Asia. Without seeking to compare in terms of quality, it was in some ways similar to mine, maybe that’s why it spoke to me. And I’m just starting “How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig… much better known, but again it looks up my street. Being an indie author has taught me that there are a lot of fantastic, lesser known books out there and I want to start finding more of those. They come with the bonus that your interest means so much more to the author… but I don’t want to miss out on the best of the better known novels either, so that’s a balance in my reading that I am now aiming to strike.
How do you market your books?
Well I’ve taken advantage of all aspects of marketing offered by the Book Guild, both for my book and my e-book, and so I know that they have done all they can in terms of media outreach and obtaining Netgalley reviews. I’ve also taken their advice and plunged headlong into Twitter (@KeithAnthonyWS) which I am really enjoying, not just the book promotion part, but having a space to express wider thoughts, for whatever they may be worth. And then of course I am doing this blog tour, which I hope will expose my novel more widely.
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
I think I’m still very much at the stage where I am welcoming advice rather than handing it out!
What do you do to get book reviews?
Well my book has only been out two weeks. I purposefully haven’t begged friends and family to leave reviews and am leaving it to whatever arrives naturally, so far that’s just two! But both score my book well and are very thoughtful, I hope more reviews will follow in coming days and weeks, so I’m trying not to get too stressed about this or about sales. I am taking my main protagonist Fergus’ advice:
“Maybe books are like people: a few become famous, the vast majority don’t, some might just be known by a handful of friends, some only by their creator even, but they all have value, at least if they have soul”.
Perhaps I wrote that in a moment of self-doubt… authors get a lot of those! Anyway, I don’t want to spoil the achievement of publishing a book, of which I am proud, by fretting too much, though of course I want “Times and Places” to do well.
How successful has your quest for reviews been so far?
Definitely still in the “could do better” category.
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
It has been lovely to receive the thoughtful reviews I have received, as well as positive comments from friends and family who have read it, but I don’t think any book is enjoyed by everyone, especially if it has stuck its neck out a bit in terms of theme. I am braced for some bad reviews and will try to be open to the constructive ones… in a way they are the greater gift in terms of developing as a writer, but it may not feel like that at the time.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
I wrote a book!!! I would just like to encourage anyone else who dreams of that to take the next step and to do so, not to be daunted by the prospect of sophisticated planning, plotting and research. The key is simply to start writing and to enjoy the process, there will be plenty of time to add, delete, fine tune, reshape later, but you’ll not get anywhere unless you start writing.
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.